Hey you there, Mr Name, in your pants on the sofa…

…<in the red beret drinking an oat milk latte in your local independent cafe><running a half marathon at 4am while your Fitbit counts your steps>…

Did you know I could see you there? Did you know that I’ve got your whole life story on my very own database? NO? Well perhaps that was a little creepy then…

I guess it turns out that personalised data can be invasive, hey. If overused, it can even come across as desperate and inauthentic.

What we tend to forget in the fundraising world is that, actually, donors aren’t as interested as we are in how oh-so-clever and innovative we can be with our data. They don’t care that we’ve overthrown all the obstacles to create regional variables that seamlessly blend into a carefully crafted letter. In fact, if they sniff a whiff of one of those money-grabbing advertisers behind a smug, all-knowing copy line about where they live and who they are, they might ruddy well throw your months’-worth of crafting straight into the bin. Or we hope, at the very least, into the recycling.

Some studies have even shown that over-familiarity with your audience can scare them right off. The Adestra Email Subject Lines 2012 study found that, within the charity sector, using first name personalisation within subject lines caused a decline in open rates of 2.6% and lowered click-through rates by 18.2%.

As technical copywriter Ben Lloyd writes:

when your customer says that they like to receive personalised emails, they are not talking about chatty copy stuffed with uses of their name.’

That is not to say, however, that personalised data doesn’t work. Of course it does. Imagine how many other ads you’re fighting every time you post/send/publish yours. You can be clever, you can shock, you can be brightly coloured or made of fireworks. But so can everyone else. So what really does work, every time? It’s the oldest rule in the book, the one you’ve always known. Know your audience. And a caveat to add: make them feel known.

This isn’t about listing all the facts you know about them, or shoving their name into every paragraph. You are a salesman behind a pen or a keyboard, but your recipients cannot see this. Imagine a conversation. Imagine how you would speak to someone you’ve stalked on Facebook, who you know all about (what they had for breakfast, what they’ll have for lunch, their relationship status, the breed of their dog, the last time their dog fell over, the name of their dog, everything about their dog…) Now imagine meeting them in real life, and pretending you don’t know these things. What a chance to connect… Or to utterly terrify with lines straight out of a horror film.

It’s a fine balance, I realise. So here’s an example of the difference between personalised copy gold dust, and the creepy personalised copy failure of a murdering psychopath who knows where you live:

Gold dust: Do you know that there are <29><nurses>/<stray dogs>/<homeless children> down the road from you in <South West England>/<Birmingham>/<Yorkshire> who need your gift today?

Creepy: <Personalised>, you can send a gift from your living room in <house number street name> right to Ruby’s door, and change her life forever.

I myself have been frightened away from a [insert brand] makeup ad on [insert channel] TV catch up website. It was a DRTV ad that began with graphics, reading: ‘Emily, get the London look.’ I was outraged, creeped out (and the copywriter in me was thinking, you’ve attacked me with my own secret weapon, how dare you?!). What if I didn’t want the London look? What if I already had it? What if I didn’t want you to know my name?

These questions could have been avoidable. The problem with ‘Emily, get the London look’ is that using my name doesn’t add anything to the messaging. It has proved that there are cookies on the page that invade my privacy, and that’s about it. Data can be so valuable but so useless if used poorly.

So it’s not just about avoiding creepy. It’s about using data effectively.

Look at your audience, look at what you know about them. What do they care about? Chances are, if something affects their local area, it will affect them too. And if you’re sending a gushing donor care piece about how amazing they are, recognise how much they’ve given, and for how long. Let them know that their individual effort is recognised, appreciated and is making a difference. Otherwise, what’s the point? Mr Bloggs may as well call the whole thing off.

Relevance, connection and appreciation – that’s your checklist when using personalised data. Gimmicky? Pointless? Clever? Throw it away. Yer creep.

Written by Emily Ford, Copywriter.